COVID-19 is heartbreaking. Literally.

August 21st, 2020


(published in The Daily Memphian)

You know the story.

A couple is married for decades and decades. One dies. And the other follows within weeks, perhaps just days. The first death is predictable, the cause or causes known, the result expected within a specified period of time. The cause of the second death is less clearly defined when we hear the story, less clinical.

“She just gave up,” someone tells us.

“He didn’t know what to do without her,” another story goes.

These stories are more sadly romantic than tragic, more matters of loss and loneliness than cold matters of scientific fact.

They died of a broken heart.

The scientific fact is they very well may have died from just that, or, at the very least, that exact thing may have contributed to their death.

“We know it played a big part in the recent deaths of two family members,” a fellow Elmwood trustee said in a Zoom meeting we had recently. “Broken heart syndrome is very real.” We were discussing the recent rise in burials, the cemetery business being one of the few where an increase in business is as much a reminder of our mortality as it is an economic indicator. Such increases require reflection as much as planning.

Broken heart syndrome is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. Also called stress-related cardiomyopathy, takotsubo cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome, it can also be triggered by serious illness or surgery.

People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath. or think they’re having a heart attack. It affects just part of the heart, temporarily disrupting the normal pumping function. It’s not a blockage of arteries; it’s part of your heart not working.

It’s a broken heart.

The Cleveland Clinic recently did a study to see if broken heart syndrome was increasing in the time of COVID around the world.

My friend on the Elmwood board could have helped. He knows what happens when family members are cut off from family and friends. From the stimulation of visitors, of contact and company, of love and laughter.

It breaks your heart.

Those in businesses most impacted by COVID-19 know. Their savings dwindling, their dreams fading, their futures as uncertain as the customer count today, as unreliable as the next pandemic conspiracy theory on the internet, as elusive as dependable leadership in this crisis.

It breaks your heart.

I, and any of you who’ve had friends and loved ones struck by COVID-19, might have added some insight. When the first eight people who died of COVID-19 were announced in Memphis, I knew two of them. When we’re reminded of the conditions of those most at risk for the virus, I check most of the boxes – and whatever I don’t have, it only takes one or two of my close friends to check whatever’s missing.

It breaks your heart.

And these, these next two most of all, get me closest to the boiling point.

The idea that children can’t, one, get it, or two, spread it is astoundingly and selfishly ignorant and dangerous. My grandchildren with a runny nose they get over by tomorrow can and have put me down for weeks.

The idea that 22 young men can run into each other at full speed, grab each other, spit on each other, scream at each other, and roll around on the ground with each other for three hours with little or no viral consequence is proof that college football fans have lost the ability not only to reason, but to think at all.

If you need further proof, one friend recently said to me, “But they’re wearing face guards.” He was serious.

The ignorance that willfully exposes children and young adults to infection exposes all of society to pandemic. It keeps you and me from those we love.

It breaks your heart.

So, it comes as no surprise that the Cleveland Clinic study revealed that the rate of broken heart syndrome is four to five times higher compared to before the pandemic. Further, hospital stays with the condition are longer.

Dr. Kami Banks, a Texas cardiologist, has this takeaway from the study, “We have seen in our country as well as other countries, job loss, higher rates of depression, higher rates of suicidality, higher rates of domestic violence, all of these things. And we may not be dealing with that stress as well as we could be.”

Bullseye, Doc.

I’m afraid that we tire so much of the pandemic that we forget what’s necessary to slow it, then end it. We want our lives back so badly ­– our kids back in school and college football back on TV on Saturdays – that we’re rationalizing all the way to risking lives.

We’re getting perilously close to, “If they get sick, they get sick. If they die, they die.”

I’m a Memphian, and that breaks my heart.

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